Wednesday, August 13, 2008

A Little Bit of Catch-Up...

Friends, I lay myself at your feet. It's been over two weeks since I've posted any semblance of critique, and I apologize. I'm beginning to approach the possibility of an encroaching *gasp* paying job, and I fear this blog's time may be nigh; the last couple weeks, I've been wrapped up with interviews, the rare freelance gig, and enjoying my free time. I'm not ready to eulogize just yet, but I'm ever hopeful for employment -- this blog was always meant to be just a fun college thing anyway. Anyway, when and if that time comes, I'll offer more significant details, but for now, on I go. This week, I intend to get back into the couple-paragraphs-long-capsule swing of things, but right now, here's brief sum-ups of some of what I've caught and thought in the last couple weeks:

"Tropic Thunder"

Hot Damn! Perhaps predictably, Ben Stiller's satire of Hollywood's self-importance and self-obsession (his first directorial effort since 2001's "Zoolander") is the funniest, most daring, most extreme, and probably best comedy of the summer. It's incredibly smart, while unremittingly crude and over-the-top, and had me in convulsions of laughter both times I've seen it. In depicting actors starring in a war film who unwittingly get caught amidst real warfare, the film has higher aspirations than nearly any comedy we've seen as of late, and reaches them without ever getting too inside-baseball or brainless. Piled high with hilarious set-pieces and quotable lines (most courtesy of Robert Downey Jr.), "Tropic" is a blissfully R-rated ball of what-the-fuck ideas that should play like gangbusters to those who like both sharp satire and smart-stupid broad comedy. Stiller, back to 'funny' mode, leads the pack as the desperate-for-a-hit former action star Tugg Speedman, and Jack Black gives his most unhinged performance in years as comedian/heroin addict Jeff Portnoy, but this movie completely belongs to Downey. As Kirk Lazarus, an Australian method actor whose received pigmentation surgery to properly embody the black man he's playing, Downey is not only hilarious with his stereotypical delivery and dialogue, his work is, against all odds, a legitimately great piece of acting worthy of the awards and accolades his character so nonchalantly calculates. Everyone took a risk on this one, and as a result, Black and Stiller should win back some of those who were starting to lose their favor, and Downey should build even more upon his recent super-stardom. It's not a movie for everyone -- it's likely to genuinely offend or put off more than a few -- but count on excellent word-of-mouth and hearing people recount favorite jokes for weeks to come. Minor quibbles: the pairing of Nick Nolte and Danny McBride never reaches its potential, Bill Hader is noticeably underused, and the film's closing moment seems like a shameless, borderline-desperate re-visit to a gag envisioned as an audience pleaser. Still, none of that keeps it all from being a hell of a fun ride, and boasting some of the funniest shit you'll see in a movie this year. Get Some!

"Pineapple Express"

David Gordon Green's stoner action comedy entry into the Apatow factory has the best production values of the lot so far and it's one of the funnier ones. I've seen it twice now -- once blissfully stoned and once not -- and amazingly, I enjoyed it about as much both times. The rambling dialogue scenes hit the stoner nails right on the head without losing their funny, and Green does a great job shooting action-y set pieces (see the foot through the windshield car chase) as well as infusing the film with some of his lyrical Malick-esque sensibilities (a completely superfluous sequence involving our two leads playing leapfrog may be my favorite in the film). And, living up to the hype, James Franco is hilarious as perpetually fried weed dealer Saul, one of my favorite performances of the year so far.

"The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2"
Not by any means a girl movie that will cross boundaries and change minds of those not inclined to attend, but a completely worthwhile follow-up to a movie that I couldn't believe I actually enjoyed when I was dragged to it a few years back. Though it perhaps unrealistically prepares young girls for a world where every guy they meet is a handsome, polite, aw-shucks type with an insanely defined body, it's refreshing to see a movie/series that tells girls they don't necessarily need to subscribe to societal demands, and doesn't feel the need to create grandiose melodrama and sentiment to justify its existence (though I could've done without the pregnancy scare). All in all, a movie that doesn't talk down to its audience -- I'm looking at you, "Kit Kittredge" -- and actually makes for a pleasant enough sit, even for non-converts.

"Swing Vote"

Poor Kevin Costner's latest high-concept dramedy does so much that's admirable and effective and well-intentioned that it's only upon speculation that you recall what's wrong with it. Still, there's an awful lot to like here, and it says all the right things while remaining consistently entertaining. Though it's basically a two-hour Public Service Announcement for the dumber factions of the electorate, there are worse messages for politically-themed movies to have than simply "be an informed citizen." What Costner and co. are trying to say here is that your vote does matter, and don't let it go to waste by either abstaining from voting, or voting on surface wedge issues. The gimmick here is a cute one, and it's used to good effect; the movie even approaches satiric brilliance with its depiction of Pro-Life ads from Democrats and Pro-Gay Marriage ads from Republicans as they try to court our main character's vote. But while the movie's a consistently watchable time at the movie and has it's bright spots, it's difficult to ignore that many of the jokes/set-pieces don't ever really take off, the excellent supporting cast (chiefly Stanley Tucci) is largely wasted, and a suplot involving Costner's ex should've been scrapped entirely. A noble effort worthy of a matinee or a rental.

"The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor"
As you've probably heard, this movie is a total piece of shit, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't have a little fun with it. There's literally nothing nice to say about it from a logical standpoint; the effects are lame, the jokes are awful, the action sequences are nonsensical and poorly mapped out, Brendan Fraser's as annoying as ever, Maria Bello's British accent is astoundingly awful. And, oh yeah, there aren't actually any honest-to-goodness mummies in it. So, while I can't give any sort of rational reason for it, the movie has enough retarded energy coursing through its veins that, through it all, I was never bored and wasn't angry I had watched it. I wouldn't use the word 'entertaining' -- that's far too complimentary -- and I wouldn't recommend anyone watch it, so don't take this as even a half-hearted endorsement. But in the realm of soulless blockbusters, it's shockingly not particularly dull or painful and, if pressed, I'd watch it again over "The Mummy Returns."

"The X-Files: I Want to Believe"
I've only seen the first film and a few stray episodes -- all of which I enjoyed -- so I'm not a X-phile by any means, but for the life of me, I can't imagine who would enjoy this drab, dull, dry, uneventful bore. I know the X crew wasn't given much of a budget on this one, so perhaps that limited their scale, but that's no excuse for how talky and repetitive this sleep-inducer of a mystery is. I'm all for keeping things small, and avoiding the actiony and alien-filled theatrics, but there's only a germ of an idea here, and most of the running time is made up of Duchovny's Mulder and Anderson's Scully (both of whom constantly look like they're in serious danger of falling asleep) having the same conversation -- about faith and believing -- over and over again.


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